This is act one in Inq’s series on the media trial of Geoffrey Rush. Read the full series here from Friday, July 3.
“I feel I have a responsibility to uncover these stories.”
It was a Wednesday afternoon in late November 2017. Sitting in the open-plan newsroom floor of The Daily Telegraph was the Murdoch tabloid’s star entertainment reporter Jonathon Moran, tapping away at a bombshell report for the next day’s paper.
In it he would allege that the Sydney Theatre Company (STC), a jewel in the Harbour City’s cultural crown, had received a complaint of “inappropriate behaviour” by one of Australia’s most successful international film stars Geoffrey Rush.
Coming only two months after The New York Times broke the story of how Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein had sexually abused dozens of women — and just days after The Sydney Morning Herald and the ABC revealed that Australian TV gardening celebrity Don Burke had sexually harassed and bullied a large number of his female colleagues — the Rush “scoop” was just what the Tele needed to catch up with its rivals as the Me Too movement ricocheted around the world.
Known by his radio name JMo, the baby-faced 41-year-old Moran had been running the Telegraph’s Sydney Confidential gossip column since 2012. It was a role that Moran seemed to relish as he bantered about celebrity movements with hosts on morning TV show Sunrise and his show on commercial radio network Nova FM.
Moran had spent almost 20 years as a reporter, starting as a cadet for the Australian Associated Press, where he did stints in the Parliament House press gallery. And he had been candid about his own battle with depression, suicide and the discrimination he had experienced as a member of the LGBTIQ community.
In an article in 2014 about television identity Charlotte Dawson, who tragically took her own life, he spoke openly of his experience as a sexual abuse survivor: “Charlotte and I shared similar demons — addictive personalities, dark depression and an unfortunate understanding of what it was like to be a victim of sexual abuse.”
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Moran began digging for stories as soon as the Me Too phenomenon exploded.
In one of his exploratory emails, to child-abuse survivor and former casting consultant Liz Mullinar, he expressed an interest in uncovering any “local Australian angles” or speaking to anyone about the Weinstein case.
“I feel I have a responsibility to uncover these stories,” he told her.
On November 17 he delivered his first Me Too story. Splashed over the front page under the headline “Wolf Creek star in rape claim”, it alleged that actor John Jarratt was being investigated over allegations he sexually assaulted his housemate in the 1970s.
But the story proved to be problematic. Jarratt was later found not guilty of rape by a district court jury after a week-long trial in which he testified that he had consensual sex with the woman and only learned of her allegation when he saw the Telegraph story.
Jarratt sued the Telegraph and Moran for defamation. That case was dropped, but a subsequent action over another story on the same subject by a different reporter was settled last December when the Telegraph paid Jarratt a confidential amount and issued a grovelling apology:
“Mr Jarratt was fully acquitted of the charge after a unanimous ‘not guilty’ verdict by a 12 person jury in July. We apologise to Mr Jarratt for the hurt and embarrassment caused by the publication of the article.”
In his search for Me Too stories, Moran also contacted his friend and close contact Sarah Monahan, a Hey Dad! child star who had revealed in 2010 that she had been abused by actor Robert Hughes.
In a lengthy interview with Moran in June 2017, before the Weinstein story broke, Monahan opened up about Hughes, who was jailed in 2014 for multiple child sex offenses, all of which he denied.
“I went to people and they said, ‘You can’t say anything because it’s the highest rating television show … You can’t speak because we’ll all be without a job’,” she told the reporter.
The pair had been in regular contact when the Weinstein story broke. It was during one of these discussions that Monahan mentioned the name of one of Australia’s biggest stars: Geoffrey Rush.
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Rumours that Rush could be a target for journalists looking for Me Too stories had been circulating for some time. Journalism is a small world and journalists feed on and off each other.
They talk, they gossip. It would not have escaped the ears of people at Holt St — News Corp’s inner-city bunker — that Fairfax journalists had compiled a list of prominent individuals who were worth considering. And vice versa. Media personalities, sports stars and actors were grist to the mill.
Adding fuel to the flames was a conversation in a Sydney pub a year-and-a-half earlier between up-and-coming actress Eryn Jean Norvill and STC manager Annelies Crowe. In evidence later outlined in court, Norvill told Crowe over drinks that she felt uncomfortable around Rush, and that he had behaved inappropriately while they worked together on the STC’s production of King Lear.
Although Norvill said she did not want to make a formal complaint, Crowe put her version of Norvill’s concerns in an email the next day to Patrick McIntyre, the theatre’s ambitious young executive director. The email was later tabled in court. (Norvill later disputed some parts of Crowe’s account from the email.)
“EJ asked me to meet her yesterday where she revealed that she was sexually harassed on multiple occasions by Geoffrey Rush during rehearsals and the season of King Lear,” Crowe told McIntyre. “In the beginning, she had heard rumours about Geoffrey’s behaviour in the past but believed she had a platonic, intellectual relationship with him, and didn’t feel the need to steer clear of him.”
Crowe went into detail about what Norvill had told her, including the allegations that he had groped her on stage, and an incident at the closing night party at Walsh Bay Kitchen. “She went into the bathroom and when she turned around Geoffrey was there standing behind her. At this point EJ broke down, fell to the floor, told him to leave, he said nothing and left. This was the first time she saw some recognition in his face that he realised he had crossed a line.”
It continued: “[Norvill] felt quite afraid when she was backstage,” she wrote, recalling seeing Norvill distressed once at a cast party. “Knowing Geoffrey’s reputation I’m afraid I’d assumed he may have been the cause but didn’t want to push her at the time.”
McIntrye, Crowe and Norvill, along with Norvill’s agent and other senior STC staff, had a meeting the next day, April 6. But Norvill did not want to make a complaint, or discuss the issue with Rush, so nothing more came of it.
Then Me Too arrived. And reporters started asking questions.
Next: Publish and be damned